After a really rough October which featured five league defeats and one cup win, Reading have started to get back on track with a much stronger November.
The Royals won four of their six matches in all competitions: 3-2 against MK Dons in the FA Cup, 5-2 against Arsenal in the Pizza Motor Vase, and back-to-back league wins against Wycombe Wanderers (2-1) and Carlisle United (5-1). The two blots on our record? Letting a one-goal lead slip at home to Bristol Rovers (1-1) and a two-goal lead slip at Shrewsbury Town (3-2).
Performances were a lot better in November too. In fact, the average score in our Player Ratings (6.01/10) is only just shaded by September (6.02/10) as the best month so far. That’s way up on October (5.43/10) and a touch higher than August (5.93/10).
Accordingly, we’ve got a pretty strong set of candidates for this month’s performance award. And, reflecting the fact that Reading have been much more dangerous in front of goal than usual, it’s a set entirely made up of attacking players.
Before we get into the actual candidates, a few words on some that didn’t quite sneak into the shortlist. I thought Nelson Abbey, Jeriel Dorsett and Michael Craig all had solid Novembers, and that’s particularly encouraging for the latter two, who are still settling in the first team. They went a long way to nailing down a spot in the XI with their performances in recent weeks, and can hopefully build on that promise in December and beyond.
Average rating: 6.40 / Man of the match awards: 1st (Wycombe Wanderers A)
Azeez has been an almost ever-present for Reading this season, missing just two matches in all competitions, but November was when things started to click for him. He contributed three/four assists (depending on what you count as an assist) and - finally - a first goal of the season.
After bright performances against MK Dons and Shrewsbury Town that lacked the end product, he provided that in the final two games. Azeez registered two assists at Wycombe Wanderers (the former almost being his goal, only for Sam Smith to be credited with a touch), then essentially did the same against Carlisle United. Besides setting up Lewis Wing’s screamer, I’d say he deserves an assist for Harvey Knibbs’ first, when he dashed down the right wing and put a low cross in that was eventually stabbed home.
To cap that evening off, he got on the end of Ben Elliott’s ball over the top to slam home for 5-1. It was a pleasingly confident strike, showing the kind of composure Azeez has lacked.
Average rating: 6.33 / Man of the match awards: 2nd (Carlisle United H)
Although he didn’t equal Azeez’ feat of getting a man-of-the-match award in November, this was a similarly positive breakthrough month for Harvey Knibbs. He’s looked noticeably better in a central role as part of Reading’s new(ish) 4-1-4-1 and has been contributing in the final third too.
Knibbs opened his November account with a header against MK Dons in the FA Cup before slamming home at the near post against Arsenal when played in by Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan. He took his tally to four with a couple of poacher’s strikes at home to Carlisle United, as well as setting up Smith against Bristol Rovers after winning the ball high.
Average rating: 6.80 / Man of the match awards: 1st (Bristol Rovers H), 1st (Shrewsbury Town A), 2nd (Wycombe Wanderers A), 3rd (Carlisle United H)
My player of the month, Smith has consistently been a stand-out performer for Reading in recent weeks. He’s performed his lone-striker duties admirably: reliably and consistently working hard, running the channels, bringing others into play and providing a goal threat - particularly in behind.
Strikes against Bristol Rovers, Shrewsbury Town, Arsenal and Wycombe all demonstrated an eye for goal (even if the last one was a touch fortunate). They came in a variety of ways too, with Smith able to score after getting on the end of a long ball, capitalising on a high turnover and making the most of a ball into the box from wide.
Smith is the effective all-round lone striker Reading have been craving for ages. After being ruled out of action for the opening stages of the campaign he’s making up for that lost time, and if he maintains this level of performance, he’ll be a strong contender for player of the season (sorry Nelson!).
Average rating: 6.83 / Man of the match awards: 1st (MK Dons H), 1st (Carlisle United H)
Another attacking player to grow in prominence in November was Lewis Wing, who registered the highest average rating of anyone to start a league game. As with Knibbs, the move to 4-1-4-1 has massively benefited him.
His high point undoubtedly came in the FA Cup, when his brace of assists (for Ehibhatiomhan and Knibbs) and goal earned Reading a 3-2 win over MK Dons. However, he’d continue that productive form later in the month with goals in consecutive league games: a deflected strike against former employers Wycombe and a screamer against Carlisle.
Who’s your November 2023 player of the month? Vote in the poll below or, if it doesn’t show up on your device, click this link.